by Dom Jones
Singer, songwriter, and businessman, John Oates, from the iconic duo, Hall and Oates, visited Berklee’s campus last week in various capacities. I attended his songwriting clinic in the David Friend Recital Hall. What I expected to be almost a workshop on how to write great songs, structure, melody, harmony, and the like, turned into more of a glimpse into John’s story in the music industry, his partnership with Daryl Oates, how he’s maintained relevance as an artist, and what the current landscape of music means for us Berklee students – the next generation of the music industry.
From a small town in Pennsylvania, John talked about how small the artist community there was when he was coming of age. When I mentioned famed soul groups from Philadelphia, PA such as: Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Delfonics, and The Stylistics, asking if he was influenced by their music (Hall & Oates music sounds like soul music to me), he told me that they’d all come up together and hung around each other before fame. He also talked about being taken advantage of in the music industry, he and Daryl being hired to write songs for an industry exec, but seeing that executive’s name ending up on all of the songs. He noted this (and other anecdotes throughout the talk) as an important lesson in having a certain level of business acumen to accompany his artistic talents.
Insofar as songwriting, Oates said that the first part of songwriting is the burst of inspiration, while the second part is refining and rewriting. He suggested that when one writes with someone unfamiliar it’s best to go into the situation with song ideas and fragments, to always have something in your back pocket to offer, in the event that the songwriting session doesn’t flow as organically as one had hoped. One of my favorite parts of the event was learning anecdotes about certain songs:
- I Can’t Go For That was actually written about not being pushed around by the music industry.
- Maneater was written about New York City, and the idea among stockbrokers and the like at the time that greed was good.
- Everytime You Go Away, which Paul Young later made a hit record with his cover, was considered a throwaway song, recorded as the last song on the B-side of a vinyl. Songs recorded later on vinyl were considered the lesser songs because they couldn’t get the same amount of level as the earlier recorded records.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE HALL & OATES SONG? LET US KNOW BELOW IN THE COMMENTS!